Leaving an Impression
Yesterday we said goodbye to my grandfather. My Papa. He was 96 years old. He was my last grandparent.
It has been a while since I saw Papa in person. I think he only met Lilly once. It kind of pains me to think that I deprived my children of the chance to know their one and only great-grandparent. But I didn’t want them to know or remember a very old man, incapable of getting down on his knees and playing with them, incapable of laughing with them because he can’t hear what they’re saying. That’s not Papa. That’s not the grandfather I know.
My grandfather never stopped. He was an early-adopter before everyone threw around phrases like “early adopter.” He was the first person I ever knew to have a computer. He had a laptop-type-device long before Apple was a household word and he was programming video games for his grandkids to play before most people knew what programming was. He kept physically fit every day of his life. When I was a kid, he was an avid boater and water-skier and tennis player. In his later years, he kept busy playing tennis (less often), surfing, ballroom dancing, swimming, bicycling.
One of the traits I admire most about him is his dedication to lifelong learning. Not necessarily from books, but from life. He was still taking up new hobbies, like surfing and playing the organ, into his seventies and beyond. He kept an active mind as well as an active body.
In the end, Papa didn’t lose a battle to any disease. He did not die of any illness. His body simply could not go on anymore. It kept him fit and active well into his senior years. In the end, he succumbed to a life well-lived; a body used to its fullest.
But who wants to be remembered for what they were “in the end.” It’s the life that comes before “the end” that is important. So I guess the best thing I can offer my children to feel connected to that man is the lessons I learned from him and my other grandparents.
I feel supremely thankful to have had the opportunity to know my grandparents, primarily my father’s father and my mother’s mother, as an adult. Not only do I have many more years of memories to cherish than if I had lost them early in life, but I have some more perspective when reflecting on their lives and what really is important even after they’ve left us. Intentional or not, they taught me many life lessons. These lessons may not be the things that made their lives meaningful to them, but they are the things that I hold dear when I remember them. They are the things that made them meaningful to me.
1. Laugh often. Despite the amount of time I spent with my grandparents, I sometimes struggle to recall the things we talked about or even what their faces looked like day to day. But I do remember the sound of their laughter. I can hear my Nana and Papa laughing so clearly in my head, it is as if they are sitting right next to me. Laugh hard. Laugh often. Share your laughter with everyone. If your children and grandchildren only remember one thing about you, let it be laughter.
2. Make a good first impression every time. When years have passed and memories get fuzzy, the reason for a particular visit or what was discussed doesn’t seem to matter a whole lot. It’s the feeling you took away from those collective experiences when they all blend together. I remember with clarity the big smile on my grandfather’s face and the way he would cross a room with his arms wide open for a hug and kiss each and every time I walked through the door to his house after hours and hours of driving to visit him. And I remember how tightly my grandmother would hug me and how she would look at me — really look at me – each time I walked through the door of her apartment. Really, it doesn’t matter what happened after that. Those greetings told me how much I was loved and that is what I carry with me today. So don’t let a first impression be just one time, make it every time. Greet everyone you love with a smile and a heartfelt welcome.
3. Share stories. The conversations I remember most clearly from my grandparents are the ones that weren’t so mundane. The conversations that stay with me are the ones when I learned something about them or about our family. My grandmother enjoyed telling stories of her past and I always loved to hear them again and again. Toward the end of her life, I think she was not telling me the stories as much as teaching them to me, so that I could continue to tell them when she was gone. And I do. My grandfather was more reserved with his stories. I had to ask many questions and I still wish I knew more about his family (our family) history. But, in both scenarios, those conversations are some of my most cherished memories. Share the stories of your life. They will last more than a lifetime.
4. Share what you know. My grandfather taught me to waterski when I was 5 years old. He taught me how to surf about a decade after that. We practiced tennis together and he was the first person to show me around a computer. Those are hobbies I still have today and I think of him often when enjoying them. Whenever I think it’s too late for me to study a language or get better at piano, I remember how old my grandfather was when he started some of his hobbies and realize it’s only my fear holding me back, not age. My grandmother was great at teaching life skills in just a few words, a look or a reaction. Once my grandmother and I were trailing behind my aunt and mother during an afternoon of shopping. My mom and aunt were getting worked up about some retail injustice that we were heading to rectify. My grandmother made me run ahead to remind them that “you catch more bees with honey.” It’s a simple, common phrase that wasn’t intended for me that day, but I hear her saying it in my head often and adjust my actions accordingly. She taught me by example not to sweat the small stuff and to make family a priority. I try hard to practice those lessons everyday and think of her often when I do.
I suppose these may seem more like lessons for being remembered than lessons for living a good life. I prefer to think of them as lessons for living a positive life that leaves a positive impression. That is something I will strive to do. Thanks to my grandparents, I have a pretty good blueprint to follow.
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